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Phobia vs Fear

Phobia vs Fear: What’s the Difference?

Did you know that 19 million people in the United States experience some type of phobia? What are you afraid of? Spiders? Public speaking? Crowded elevators?

Do you make plans to avoid walking close by the ceiling-to-floor windows in your office building?

If you change your daily life because of things that cause anxiety and fear, you may have a phobia. Talk to a mental healthcare professional to determine if you suffer from a phobia vs fear. Treatment can help you live a more relaxed and peaceful life.

Is There a Difference Between Phobia vs Fear?

Phobia and fear describe two different conditions. These conditions can interrelate, but they are not the same. Fear has a specific trigger and phobias may or may not.

Phobias and fear can lead to anxiety. Anxiety describes an overwhelming state of fear that can result from a phobia.


Fear describes a physical and emotional response to perceived danger. Fear helps protect us from threats and harm.

When you feel that a situations or thing presents a danger, you may respond in several different ways.

  • Fight means that your body prepares to fight the enemy
  • Flight means that your body runs from the enemy
  • Freeze means that you are so overwhelmed that you can’t respond

Fear is an ancient emotion. This kept them safe from life-threatening events or confrontations.


Phobias describe an unreasonable fear that something will cause you harm. They are a common type of anxiety disorder. Even though an individual recognizes their fear as irrational, they can’t control their response.

The word phobia comes from the Greek word phobos which means fear or horror. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) divides phobias into 5 general categories:

  • Fear of animals such as dogs, spiders, and insects
  • Fear of the natural environment including darkness, heights, and thunder
  • Fear of blood, injury, or medical problems such as broken bones, injections, or falls
  • Fear of specific events, like flying, riding in an elevator or driving
  • Miscellaneous fears of loud noises, drowning, or choking

Some specific phobias include:

  • Hydrophobia describes a fear of water
  • Agoraphobia means a fear of places or circumstances that create an inescapable feeling of terror and helplessness
  • Social Phobias include profound fear of public humiliation and judgement in social situations
  • Phobophobia describes a fear of fears
  • Emetophobia means a fear of vomiting
  • Erythrophobia describes a fear of blushing
  • Hypochondria means a fear of being sick
  • Aerophobia is the fear of flying
  • Arachnophobia describes a fear of spiders
  • Zoophobia means a fear of all animals
  • Claustrophobia described a fear of being in confined spaces
  • Glossophobia means the fear of public speaking

Causes of Phobias

No one knows exactly what causes a phobia to start. Most specific phobia seem to start in childhood between the ages of 4 and 8. Agoraphobia often begins later in the late teens or early twenties.

Learn what causes fear in your child and explain that the trigger will not hurt them. This may help prevent them from developing phobias.

Diagnosis of Phobias

Mental health professionals talk with you to find what causes of your fear and anxiety. The will inquire about your daily behaviors and how your organize your life.

If you plan life activities around avoiding irrational fear, you may have a phobia. People with phobias have an overwhelming desire to avoid things that cause terror and anxiety.

Signs related to Phobias

Phobia responses cause more serious responses than simple fear. Symptoms include:

  • chest pains
  • trouble breathing
  • feeling dizzy
  • pins and needle feelings
  • sweating

Remember, feelings are always real. What you do with those feelings may need work.

Treatment for Phobias

Good news, phobias do not have to control your life.

Mental health professionals can help you with phobias, fear, and anxiety. They may use a combination of medications, exposure treatment, and behavioral treatment.

Medications may prove helpful to decrease anxiety and symptoms of panic. These medications can include:

  • Antidepressants to elevate your mood
  • Beta blockers to decrease the release of adrenaline in your body which causes increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and shaky voice, arms, and legs
  • Sedatives or benzodiazepines help with relaxation

Make sure to tell your healthcare professional about all the medications you take. This will help avoid drug interactions that change how the medications work.

Also tell your practitioner if you currently or have previously dealt with addictions. Some of these medications can be addictive.

Exposure treatment endeavors to change how you respond to the specific item or circumstances that cause your fear response. You are slowly exposed to your specific phobia on repeated occasions.

You explore your thoughts, feelings, and physical responses. Your psychologist stays with you during these experiences. They help you learn effective coping skills.

For example, you may start by only thinking about an elevator. Then you can look at pictures of elevators and go near an elevator.

The next steps will involve getting on the elevator and then riding one-floor. Finally, you will ride several floors and on a crowded elevator.

Cognitive behavioral Treatment (CBT) emphasizes that thoughts control your feelings and behaviors, not outside factors. treatment strives to help you change the way you think, feel, and respond to triggering events. They teach you positive coping strategies to help you change the way you view situations.

The goal is to achieve long-term, effective results that decrease you fear and anxiety.

Are There Things You Can Try at Home?

There are steps you can try on your own such as:

  • Discuss your fears openly with others who will provide encouragement
  • Practice being near the object or situation that causes fear
  • Ask family or friends to be with you to provide support
  • Consider joining a self-help group where you can talk about your fears with others who have the same experiences
  • Get enough rest
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Get plenty of exercise
  • Avoid caffeine
  • Model positive behavior for children so your fears are not passed down

Always to remember to celebrate your successes no matter how small they may be.

Are You Ready to Work on Your Fears and Phobias?

Treatment is available to increase your confidence and help you participate fully in life. Our website provides information about emotional and mood disorders, diagnosis, and treatment options.

If you found this article helpful in understanding more about phobia vs fear, visit our site today and learn more.

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